Friday, September 30, 2011

'North By Northwest' Open Thread

What did you think?


  1. I love the way this story draws you in, with very pleasant, unsuspecting and somewhat silly Mr. Thornhill who is observed by some foreboding looking gentlemen who turn out to be as bad as you could ask. The 'everyman' attempts to warn those around him, who simply cannot take him seriously, leaving Mr. Thornhill to rely on his ingenuity, charm and resourcefulness, which turns out to be considerable. The scene in the gallery was very fun, and I loved his escape onto the train. There is a lot to say, but I don't want to go on too far. It's a favorite!

  2. Certainly a classic and a favorite of mine. I've seen it too often on broadcast TV with scenes cut here and there to insert commercials, so this viewing made it seem almost new. Of course I tried to read Eva Marie Saint's lips when she said "I never make love on an empty stomach," ordered redubbed to "I never discuss love" by the censors. Thirty-five year old Eva doesn't quite pass as 26-year-old Eve, but it is a 55-year-old Cary Grant after all. And MGM's choice of Cyd Charisse would have been been 37 at the time. "Thornhill's" mother--Clara (Jessie Royce Landis)-- was Grant's age. Sort of shows what Hollywood thinks of movie pairings. Or what we do. Would we have accepted Landis as the romantic lead? I'll let James bring up that closing scene of the train entering the tunnel. I have no idea what it symbolizes.

  3. The tunnel? It would appear Grant's character is entering a dark and dangerous point in the narrative, but we're getting way ahead of ourselves!

    It has been quite some time since I had seen this movie, and oh my word! My recollection of the train trip was there was a certain elegant fun to having a fine meal in the diner car, and there was some light banter and flirting going on back and forth, but this... this was something else! My word!! Eva Marie Saint is ... wow. Very lovely, very bright, and oh so very forward.

    "The moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I have no desire to make love to her."

    "What makes you think you have to conceal it?"

    "She might find the idea objectionable."

    "Then again, she might not..."

    Woah. And poor Roger Thornhill, he is so totally overwhelmed. Man on the run, so any port in a storm, sure, but this is something again. It was so funny!! Cary Grant just cracked me up. All the quips and funny exchanges, with the subtext just hitting you over the head, both you the viewer and 'poor' Mr. Thornhill as a character in the show - it was too much! And the cigarette?! Where she leans in and takes hold of his hand? Sheesh! It was enough to make me want to take up smoking. I'm little embarrassed over the whole thing.

    But anyway, the movie moves on. I am as far as his meeting with Mr. Kaplan out in the Illinois corn field, which didn't go so well. This movie just races along. And that darn Eve Kendell - slipping a note to Mr. Townsend, or whoever he is, while they were on the train... very creepy. I remember the good guys come out pretty well in the end, but I've forgotten much of how it all comes together.

    "It's going to be a long night."


    "And I don't particularly like the book I've started."


    "You know what I mean?"

    "Ah, let me think."

    And we can all wait and think about that while the rest of us finish the show.

  4. I think the description of this movie as the first Bond film--without the gadgets--is pretty much spot on.

    Mr Thornhill does get the attention from the ladies. I suspect that women in the next hospital room, when he was escaping from his locked door via the window ledge, had something else in mind when she ordered him to stop for the second time-- as he was leaving at that point. I could be wrong.

  5. This movie is so much fun! Just enough tension ('cause we know they're not going to kill off Cary Grant), just enough humor.

    Eve Kendall -- Very lovely, very bright, and oh so very forward -- was SO forward I figured she had to be an agent of the "alphabet soup" group, assigned to protect Thornhill without giving herself away- I mean, exposing herself- I mean, telling him her true identity. (It was a real surprise when she handed off the "What do I do with him in the morning?" note.)

    And it was fun seeing Thornill -- apparently quite successful with the ladies -- non-plussed by her advances; everything he says to be suggestive or shocking, she trumps!

    Cary Grant was, of course, wonderful in this. (The more I see him in other movies, the more I feel he was misused in Arsenic and Old Lace -- not that I won't watch it again as we get closer to Halloween!) But the charm and the self-assurance he projects are critical to his character's ability to survive the adventure. And I love the joking lines in the midst of all the danger, like crediting his two divorces to his ex-wives' having felt he led a boring life.

    His mother, though. I can't decide whether there is a bit of unfortunate writing in her role, or whether we are supposed to accept that, because she disapproves of his drinking, she would really believe that he fabricated the whole story he tells the police so as to avoid a drunk-driving charge. And that bit in the elevator: "You aren't really trying to kill my son, are you?" Too nonsensical. Maybe she just need to play it a bit more dotty herself. Although I did love her line to Thornhill when they are all trooping out of the big house:"Pay the two dollars!"

    Gotta run -- more later.

  6. Gotta run?! Hey!! You didn't tell me why she sent that note to VanDamm. And why did she send Thornhill off to meet with the crazy crop duster pilot? Not nice. I thought for sure she was double crossing Thornhill, the little minx. But Eva Marie Saint, she was very good in this, and I loved Cary Grant as well.

  7. You didn't tell me why

    Cathy respects the spoilers. She never even told me how the Bible turns out. She can keep a mean secret.

  8. She never even told me how the Bible turns out.

    The good guys win!

    And then there's some maps.


  9. The good guys win!

    I thought they might!
    Are here mermaids on those maps? Or am I thinking of endpapers? "Here be Mermaids!"
    "Here be Flying Fish!"

  10. "Are THERE"

    Not that it matters much.

  11. "Beyond here there be Dragons!"

    I think you were probably right the first time. They used to talk funny.

  12. Okay kids, does anyone understand why she sent R.O.T. off to the rendezvous with Kaplan? All I can say is that she was carrying out VanDamm's instructions to maintain her cover, and didn't know for sure what would become of Roger, but couldn't see how she could protect him. She certainly was glad to see that he had survived, but that in itself indicates she knew his life was in jeopardy in keeping that appointment. Regardless, it made for good suspense.

  13. She had no choice but to follow Vandamm's instructions. The Professor didn't seem to be very concerned about the safety of civilians. Eve Kendall was a civilian herself--although she agreed to participate. It's all part of the moral ambiguity. People were starting to have doubts about government, you see.

  14. She probably thought that he would be met by a man with a gun or knife. I'm pretty sure that a
    cropduster never entered her mind. Hitchcock wanted a cyclone (tornado), btw, according to the writer, Ernest Lehman. "...[B]ut they're trying to kill him. How are they going to work up a cyclone?"

  15. No argument here. When I saw the note to VanDamm I realized it was the bad guys, rather than the good guys (well, relatively), who had instructed her to keep Thornhill occupied until the next morning.

    She was nervous after her phone call to "Kaplan" when she gave Thornhill the instructions in the train station, I assume because she knew she was being observed by Leonard, at least.

    (I loved the bit with Thornhill and the mini razor!)

    Her concern for Thornhill was evident when she threw herself into his arms when he came to her hotel room. I loved watching his face while he was trying to reconcile that greeting with what he thought he knew from the murder attempt.

    You know, something that's funny -- they went to great lengths to make his death look accidental, with the car. So, was the thrown knife/apparent stabbing of the real Lester U.N. Townsend intended to implicate Thornhill in his murder? (Not just an added bonus to silencing Townsend?)

    And if they weren't trying to make it look like an accident out at "Prairie Stop," why use such an elaborate scheme to kill him? (I can see how you could possibly hit someone with a crop duster accidentally, but it's hard to explain accidentally shooting him from the air.)

    Or am I thinking about this too much?

  16. The bad guys thought he was Kaplan. I would guess the knife at the UN was meant for him. They would assume that Kaplan would be released once he showed his spy credentials--like they thought when the police took him away at the auction.

    Didn't that train porter (the one who lent Thornhill his uniform for $$$ to escape the police) look like he was 5'2"? Those uniforms mut have amazing stretch--it fit Thornhill perfectly!

  17. And yes, the porter's uniform had MUCH more stretch than "Kaplan's" suit!

    And speaking of suits -- it struck me as so funny that, after having been hurled through cornstalks, covered in pesticide, and dragged on the asphalt out from under a truck, Thornhill's suit just needs to be "sponged and pressed". That is one great suit!

  18. "Sponged and pressed", yes, that was one of those phrases from this film that forever sticks with me. Perhaps that's an East coast expression, but I had never heard it. It's as much a part of my memory of this film as the way Cary Grant says South Dakota.

    It seems that Eve was almost a prisoner of VanDamm and Leonard. The theme they used with her was lovely, but had a certain sad quality to it, and when she met with Thornhill after the staged shooting, and told him that she began to work with the professor because it was the first time that someone had asked her to do something worthwhile, you had the sense she had misread people in the past, made bad decisions and been taken advantage of, till she ended up here with the very smooth yet ruthless killer VanDamm. She would stay with him until she learned what was needed. Thornhill was determined to rescue her from the life she was living, and his persistence ended up saving her life. I really loved hearing the indignation in his voice when he challenged the professor over putting her in harms way, and I think it was very good for Eve to have heard him say it. It made all the difference in the world.

    I really loved the score throughout the movie, the driving quality and discord juxtaposed with the lovely theme for Eve was very compelling.

  19. That scene in the train, where Roger Thornhill ends up being seated with Miss Kendall, soon to find out it was no accident, I loved that scene. The setting was very elegant, and it was so very fun just in the dialogue, but when Eve pulls out a cigarette, and Roger dutifully pulls out a match book and reaches forward with a light, the way she held his hand to help guide him along was so darn intimate, and then leans forward and blows out the damn match, to a cut back to Grant's face, that just killed me. This was a fun show!

  20. That suit became famous--being the most mentioned by suit buyers in the early Sixties. Seems to me there's a similar "brush and light pressing" line in at least one other Hitchcock film, after a similar wear and tear action sequence.

    I wonder how many people tried to buy Vandamm's house after the movie? It doesn't exist, if you've wondered. Well it does (or did), but only on the MGM studio lot.

  21. Well, for our next show I was thinking of, well, a lot of different shows really, but one that has lots of good memories tied to it is 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'. The lovely Audrey Hepburn in her iconic role as Holly Golightly, the free spirited girl tied up with the mob, but not really. A call girl who could get a guy to give her fifty dollars for a cab ride home, but then wasn't necessarily at home if he ever came to call. And George Peppard as a writer who has sold out and given up on his dreams. It's a good one. I should have it up by early next week.

  22. Good to be back...
    Thought I'd look in here first because coincidentally I've just watched this one recently (with the Eva Marie Saint-hosted documentary; never seen that before) and thought it was more amazing than ever. (Plus I actually really don't like Breakfast at Tiffany's at all...)

    For my money this is both the Hitchcock masterpiece, in the sense that it is like a greatest hits compilation of everything that's good about Hitchcock, and also the last Hitchcock masterpiece, in the sense that everything that followed was to varying degrees showy, straining for effect, or otherwised compromised by his percieved need to top himself with each new release, and to appeal to the punters and the Truffaut crowd at the same time.
    Psycho and The Birds, though not negligible, are both massively overrated, and it was downhill all the way from there on.
    Interesting that modern critics tend to overlook it in favour of the film that came before -Vertigo - and the one that came after - Psycho - both interesting movies (especially Vertigo) but surely inferior as cinema, and as examples of 'The Hitchcock Touch' at work. Alas, it seems North By Northwest's curse to modern eyes is that it had the audacity to not take itself too seriously, or saddle its characters with risible quasi-Freudian quirks.

    What's missing so very much from Psycho onwards, yet is in such abundance here, is elan and joy and fun: it's very tense and exciting when it wants to be, but also supremely stylish and attractive and light-hearted.
    Because of the massive success of Psycho, he forgot all about glamour and decided that what people wanted of him was callous scares. Which is why so many people now think the defintion of a Hitchcock movie is a scary movie. This was a double mistake, partly because that combination of romance and thrills and style is so much more interesting than a good scare, however well orchestrated, but also because he was actually too mechanical a film-maker to really deliver scares anyway.
    Psycho got by on the novelty of its nastiness, but everything afterwards is really quite clunky to my eyes.

    This is perfect, suspenseful but also refreshing. As well as great set pieces it has a plot that's fully as twisty-turny as Vertigo, but just doesn't feel the need to be as pompous about it. And best of all, it seems effortless, whereas The Birds or Vertigo or Marnie positively creak with effort.